Archive for the ‘St. Augustine Real Estate’ Category

More Closing Fees You Never Heard Of!

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

by Sean Hess ( 904-386-8327 , Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook.

How to Buy a House and Not Lose Sex by Sean Hess

How to Buy a House and Not Lose Sex by Sean Hess

Author’s note: This is a selection from my new book, How To Buy A Home and Not Lose Sex: Find the Best House, Make the Best Offer, and Keep Your Love Life, which you can purchase on Amazon by clicking here.

In the next few weeks I’m going to cover all the closing costs I can think of. In past weeks I’ve covered the down payment, the cost of a Realtor, earnest money deposits, prepaid closing costs, flood elevation certificates, insurance, escrows, title insurance, lender fees, and, of course, freaking out about closing costs! This week I share the joy of PMI and funding fees.

One More Closing Cost You’ve Never Heard Of: PMI

If you put less than 20% down, you have to pay something called “private mortgage insurance,” a.k.a. “PMI.”

PMI is basically insurance that you pay in case the bank has to foreclose on your loan.

You can’t shop rates for PMI (the bank chooses), and PMI runs anywhere from .3% to 1.15% of the original loan amount per year.

Let’s say the PMI is .5% and the loan amount is $180,000. The PMI every year will be $900. The bank will divide this into each monthly payment; thus you will end up with $75 more tacked onto your payment each month (remember, you already have tax and insurance escrows tacked onto your payment as well).

When you pay down the loan amount to 78% of the original purchase price, the lender is required to remove the PMI.

Back in the days of the housing bubble, homes appreciated really fast, so people would get an appraisal to “prove” that they had more than 20% equity in a home and get the PMI dropped.

You can’t do that anymore. You have to put 20% down at the time of purchase or get the principal down to 78% of the original purchase price to avoid PMI.

Another thing people used to do during the housing bubble was get an 80% loan and a 20% loan at the same time to essentially get 100% financing.

Does anyone remember how that worked out?

Some kind of housing crash, I believe?

The worst housing crash in American history, actually, and a boatload of bad loans that helped trigger the Great Recession.

So they don’t do 80/20 loans anymore, either.

You have to put money down these days, and to avoid PMI, the down payment has to be above the 20% mark.

One last thing: Some, but not all, PMIs have a funding fee that is paid at closing. This could be 1%–2% of the loan amount.

Funding Fees for Government-Backed Loans (Like FHA and VA)

Government-backed loans (FHA, VA, and USDA loans) do not have PMI.

Instead, they have something similar to PMI called a “mortgage insurance premium” or “MIP.”

MIP for FHA is currently listed at .85% of the loan amount, and it essentially works the same way as PMI. Please note, that number is current as of this writing but it has changed nearly every year since 2007.

There’s also an FHA “funding fee” (sometimes called a “guarantee fee” or “Upfront MIP”) equal to 1.75% of the loan amount at closing.

So if you have an FHA loan of $150,000, you will have an extra $2,625 in closing costs for the Upfront MIP and an additional $106-ish tacked onto your monthly payment for the MIP.

The funding fee can be rolled into your loan if you’ve met the 3.5% down-payment threshold for FHA.

MIP for a USDA loan is .4%, with a funding fee of 2.0%.

USDA recalculates the MIP every year based on the current principal balance, not the original loan balance. So USDA costs a bit more on the front end but is less costly on the monthly payment.

There is no MIP or PMI for a VA (veterans) loan. However, there is a funding fee of 1.25-3.3% for a VA loan depending on the veteran’s eligibility. If a vet puts over 5% down, the funding fee can be reduced.

If you don’t know what these loan types are, don’t worry; I’ll cover them later in the book. I only mention them now so you can get an idea of what type of cash you might need to bring to closing.

If you are thinking about buying a home, please consider hiring myself and my team as your Realtors. We can help you find the best house and make the best offer. Contact me at or my partner Kate at

Online Auction Sites: Bad News If You Don’t Know What You Are Doing

Friday, April 17th, 2015

by Sean Hess ( 904-386-8327 , Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook.

How to Buy a House and Not Lose Sex by Sean Hess

How to Buy a House and Not Lose Sex by Sean Hess

Author’s note: This is a selection from my new book, How To Buy A Home and Not Lose Sex: Find the Best House, Make the Best Offer, and Keep Your Love Life, which you can purchase on Amazon by clicking here.

From time to time, I see a property listed by a local real estate agent, but the offer has to be made through a very dubious-looking third-party website that “auctions” the home.

Ostensibly these websites are supposed to get a true market price for a foreclosed property, but the reality is that the fees they charge to buyers can be so onerous, and the process so difficult to understand, that most real estate agents and their buyers simply go out and find another property. The upshot is that it lowers the buyer pool, creates less competition for a property, and thus depresses its true market value.

Be that as it may, it’s still always about the house. If the house you want is on one of these sites, you will have to deal with them.

Now stay with me for a second, because I’m going somewhere with this …

The reason real estate agents are licensed is that the state wants the agents to have a clear and defined role in the process. The state also wants to use its agents to protect the consumer.

So when I help you write an offer and insist that you get inspections, that’s the state’s way of using my license to protect you. The state has exerted its control on me to make sure I do this. If I don’t use this type of skill, care, and diligence in a transaction, the state says I can’t have a license.

Getting back to the online auction sites (and each one is different, and each one might have changed since this writing), some of these sites will try to separate you from this protection.

Here’s how one we dealt with recently went down. I put the commissions in because it’s relevant in the end.

The listing broker listed a foreclosed property. In the MLS, he offered to pay 3% to any agent who brought the buyer. In the remarks section (seen only by Realtors) it stated that “all offers must be submitted through” one of these auction sites (I’ve withheld the name).

One of my agents found the listing in the MLS and took a buyer to see it. The buyer wanted to make an offer.

My agent told the buyer that the offer had to be made through the auction site, per the remarks. So the buyer did that.

Normally, the buyer’s agent prepares the offer on his or her own computer. When the paperwork is completed, it is either printed out and signed by the buyer, or emailed to the buyer for signature.

The buyer always has questions. The “How do I get my binder back?” and “Can I get out of this if the roof is bad?” plus all the “What if …” questions. They all come during this phase, when the offer is prepared.

But there was no question-and-answer in this case. In a perfect world, the buyer’s agent and the buyer could have sat down at the same computer and made the offer. But the buyer was out of town when he decided to make the offer. He had to make the offer by himself.

When the buyer did make the offer, there was no place to list my agent’s name.

My agent had to “register” with the auction site first (isn’t she licensed by the state already? Why did she have to register?), which she was unaware of.

So when the paperwork for the offer was approved, my agent’s name was not listed on it.

“So what?” you say.

Well, the listing agent basically told her that since she wasn’t on the paperwork, she wasn’t going to get paid for the sale. Ouch!

“So what?” you say again. “Certainly regrettable, but how does this affect the buyer?”

Here’s how it could have worked out (in fact, I’m guessing that this is how it normally works out). A buyer’s agent with less cojones than my agent just walks away. The listing agent says, “Too bad, so sad, you won’t get paid,” and the buyer’s agent essentially tells the buyers, “Well, it’s been nice knowing you, and I’m so sorry, but you’re on your own.”

Agents do that. Agents will abandon a customer when it looks like they aren’t going to get paid.

And you, dear buyer, on your own is exactly what (at least in my opinion) they want.

They want you on your own for inspections. They want you on your own through the closing process. They want you on your own when the settlement statement comes through. They don’t want you to get any advice and they do not want outside scrutiny.

My agent did not take this lying down. She stuck with the buyer. And she got my butt moving as well.

I worked it from the money angle. Because the listing broker promised 3% in the MLS, the listing broker had to pay that to my agent if the property closed, regardless.

To his credit he worked hard to try and get my agent “officially” established as the buyer’s agent with the auction site, but to no avail.

I insisted that my agent get paid anyway. It turned out (in this case) that because there was no “official” buyer’s agent listed, the commission paid was only a total of 2% (normally it would be 5%, with 2% going to the listing broker and 3% going to the buyer’s agent). So when I insisted, the listing broker was looking at not only paying his entire 2% commission to my agent, but paying another 1% out of his own pocket to cover the fee he offered in the MLS.

“So what?” you say. “I see how this impacts the agent, and I see how cutting out the agent can affect the buyer, but I don’t see how the commission and who-gets-paid-what affects the buyer.”

The way the commission works in all this is that it gives the listing agent and the auction site a money incentive to cut out the buyer’s agent.

I would think this is counterintuitive. If I’m the listing agent, I need the buyer’s agent to handle that side of the transaction. I don’t want that liability.

But an auction site sets up an environment where the buyer gets separated from the buyer’s agent, the buyer’s agent gets “delisted,” and then the listing agent fights tooth-and-nail to keep the buyer’s agent out of the transaction because it will cost him money out of pocket if the buyer’s agent insists on getting paid (as it did in this case).

All so that you are on your own for inspections, on your own through the closing process, and on your own when the settlement statement comes through. And so you are not advised, at any point, to get advice and outside scrutiny.

Because after the listing agent tried to get my agent into this particular auction system without success, and when he realized money would be coming out of his own pocket, he started with the “it’s not my fault; it’s your agent’s fault for not registering,” and “so you think it’s fair to take money out of my pocket” arguments. All of which are immaterial: He promised 3%, and my agent wasn’t going anywhere.

When he saw the writing on the wall, he offered to split his commission with my agent, which she agreed to. The buyer, when he found out this was going on, actually kicked in an extra 1% to my agent, which she split with the listing agent. So both got paid 1.5% for all the trouble, when each should have gone away with more.

“So how is this different from when a buyer walks into a new-home model without their agent and signs a contract,” you ask, “effectively cutting their agent out of the deal?”

Good question. Here’s my opinion.

The agent in a new-home sales office, even if he or she is a single agent working wholly for, and who is totally loyal to, the builder, that agent is still licensed by the state.

Additionally, even with that stilted toward the builder, the new-home agent still must use skill, care, and diligence in a transaction. They cannot do anything illegal. They cannot hide latent defects. They cannot mislead the buyer or lie to the buyer by law.

The builder, while not licensed by the same state agency as the agent, is still licensed by the state. The builder has its own state-mandated protections that it has to provide to the consumer and that it can’t get out of.

So even if a consumer walks in by themselves, they are still not separated from state consumer protection because both the new-home agent and the builder are licensed.

When a consumer gets separated from their agent via an online auction site, on the other hand, and the buyer’s agent bows out because they think they aren’t getting paid (they believe they are no longer employed, in other words), and the listing agent makes no effort to block this (even though the MLS obligates payment), the consumer loses state protection. The listing agent has no legal obligation to deal with the buyer (any existing laws to the contrary). These auction sites, if not licensed to sell real estate themselves, have no obligation to protect the consumer. They are simply used as proxies for the banks that are ultimately selling these homes, it seems to me, in order to provide a second layer of distance from the consumer.

One of these auction sites we dealt with required the consumer to list the buyer’s agent. The buyer could not move forward if they did not list their agent, and the consumer still had to prepare the offer and submit it on their own. In this case, the consumer was out of state and had to prepare it without any direction or the ability to ask questions as the offer was being prepared (as opposed to a licensed agent preparing it and being available to answer questions before it was signed and submitted).

Some of the listing agents for the auction sites are also starting to be proactive, spelling out the process for the buyer’s agent more clearly in the remarks (presumably because they lost money on a previous deal).

On my end I am telling my agents to prepare and submit these offers, with the consumer either sitting by them (or on the phone, Skype, FaceTime, or GoToMeeting). Whatever it takes.

If you are thinking about buying a home, please consider hiring myself and my team as your Realtors. We can help you find the best house and make the best offer, even if it is on an auction site. Contact me at or my partner Kate at

Holiday Happenings In St. Augustine 2014

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook.

Christmas in St. Augustine

Christmas in St. Augustine

The Holidays are here and there are dozens of things going on in St. Augustine between now and New Years. Here are a few of my favorites…

If you are looking for some cool toys for the kids this year, head on down to Olde Towne Toys at 113 King Street, a half block west of the post office downtown between Riberia and ML King. This place has all the fun stuff like Playmobil and Thomas the Train Engine, magic tricks and science experiments, games, toys, and outdoor stuff that you won’t find anywhere else. We need this business in our town. Please support it this Holiday season! FYI: Parking looks tight in the front, but there are spaces on the side of the building and behind.

Click here to see homes in St. Augustine’s Lincolnville neighborhood, just south of King Street.

The St. Augustine Lighthouse’s Luminary Night is Wednesday, December 3rd between 6-9 p.m. If the Lighthouse isn’t beautiful enough by day, it gets even prettier at night when surrounded by hundreds of glowing luminaries. There’s live music performed by local choirs and ensembles, warm hot chocolate, crafts for the kids, and you can even climb the light at night, which is amazing if you’ve never done it. The last few years they’ve even had Santa. As it’s on a Wednesday night this is almost exclusively a local’s event and a place to let your hair down a bit. Best of all, admission is free. FYI: This is a great place to find an “only from St. Augustine” gift.

Click here to see homes in neighborhoods near the St. Augustine Lighthouse.

An event I stumbled on to a few years back that is really cool: The British Night Watch and Grand Illumination (8pm on Saturday, December 6th). Reenactors dressed as British soldiers, complete with fife and drum corps and led by torch bearers, fire a salute and then march around the plaza and then up the length of St. George Street. As a member of the crowd you can fall in behind the soldiers and follow along. It’s a little late but the kids love all the pageantry and, of course, running around the plaza at night. FYI: Many people carry a candle (that’s the “Grand Illumination” part). In past years I’ve seen people selling candles, and some years people just handed them to us!

The Garden Club of St. Augustine’s Christmas Tour of Homes is a low key event where you can see some of the Historic District’s prettiest homes all dressed up for the Holidays. This is really a couples or parents event: Get the kids a sitter for this one and have fun looking. This year’s event will be held Sunday, December 7th, from noon to 5 p.m. FYI: Tickets for this routinely sell out so it’s not too early to buy.

Click here to see homes in neighborhoods around St. Augustine’s Historic District.

The Bed & Breakfast Holiday Tour is an amped up tour of St. Augustine’s best B&Bs. Spread over two days (Saturday, December 13th, and Sunday, December 14th, from 1-5 p.m. this year), the event features the inns macked out for the Holidays replete with samples of great food from local restaurants along with live music. If you’ve ever wondered what these places look like on the inside, it’s a great opportunity to check them out in style. Like the Garden Tour of Homes, this is a couples and parents event, so get a sitter and enjoy the two days. FYI: Even though they try to keep the inns grouped close together each day, there is still a lot of walking. Also, word travels fast about which caterer is where, and the best food sees big crowds.

A December to Remember (Presented by Community First Credit Union) at the St. Augustine Amphitheater. This is not one event but a series of events spread out over the month of December. This year there are free movies (It’s a Wonderful Life) and a free holiday concert with the Manhattan Transfer. It hasn’t opened as of this writing, but at last year’s events they had an elf village for the kids to play in (as well as a train ride and bounce houses), Santa visits, s’mores and hot cocoa in the fire pit close to the stage, and of course, great entertainment. There’s lots of things going on during the month and everything is truly good for all ages. FYI: Nearly every event is free. The only ticketed event I’ve seen is the Hall & Oates concert on December 6th.

Click here to see homes in neighborhoods near the St. Augustine Amphitheater and the St. Augustine Pier.

Start the New Year off right with carnival food, live music, and fireworks at the Beach Blast Off at The St. Augustine Pier. The event is located in the parking lot at the pier, and runs from 4-10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, December 31st. Fireworks go off from 8:30-9 p.m. This is really a fun event and it’s early enough for the kiddos to get some New Year’s cheer before the ball drops at midnight. FYI: You can’t park at the pier (obviously), and many of the roads will be closed, but free shuttles run from various locations during the event. Check the website for details.

Have a Very, Merry Christmas from St. Augustine Team! Questions about any of the neighborhoods we have listed with these events? Just contact me at the email up top or email Kate Stevens, my partner and Broker Associate (904-377-2276).

Yes, we know Google killed Authorship, but the best minds say Big G still looks at the code. So here it is.

Can I Sell a Home That Needs Repairs?

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook.

Can you sell a home that needs repairs?

Of course you can!

Two things, however.

Number one: If the home needs extensive repairs, or even a new roof (and you can’t afford to put on a roof), you may only be able to sell the home for cash. Why? Well, a bank won’t lend on a home and insurance companies won’t insure a home that needs extensive repairs (even if it’s just a bad roof). So a cash buyer is your only option.

Number two: If it’s just more aesthetic repairs (cracked tile or grout, leaky faucets, etc.), you won’t have any problem with loans or insurance. But if you don’t make the repairs you are going to sell at a lower price.

My partner and fellow Broker, Kate Stevens, break it down for you in the video below:

We can help you navigate repairs when you go to sell. Just contact me at the email up top or email Kate Stevens, my partner and Broker Associate (904-377-2276).

Yes, we know Google killed Authorship, but the best minds say Big G still looks at the code. So here it is.

Search for Homes in Gamble Rogers School District

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook.

Sunset soccer at Gamble Rogers

Sunset soccer at Gamble Rogers

One of the great things I get to do is coach soccer at the U-10 level. I can’t tell you how much fun I am having doing it.

Anyway, between practices and games, I am at Gamble Rogers Middle School at least three times a week. Gamble Rogers is where the soccer fields are and where the games are held. By my count there are eleven or twelve total pitches there, ranging from U-6 to a full-size field with prescription athletic turf.

I am lucky enough to live nearby, and if we stay where we are at, my kids will eventually attend Gamble as students.

Your kids can attend Gamble too. The current school zoning ranges from posh oceanfront homes and condos at the beach, all the way out to the farmland surrounding Hastings, to the winding streets and stucco homes of lovely suburbia where I live. It’s a truly all-encompassing district. Click here to see homes for sale in the Gamble Rogers Middle School district.

Let us help you find a house in the Gamble district. Just contact me at the email up top or email Kate Stevens, my partner and Broker Associate (904-377-2276).

Yes, we know Google killed Authorship, but the best minds say Big G still looks at the code. So here it is.


FHA: The Loan of First Resort

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook.

FHA: The Loan of First Resort

FHA: The Loan of First Resort

I was on long drive recently and stumbled on a show answering real estate questions.

Anyway, the idiot answering these questions glibly called the FHA “the loan of last resort.” And I started yelling back at the radio, “What the [expletive deleted] are you talking about?”

This on the heels of a good friend calling me up a few weeks back and asking if the FHA was a “bad” loan. I said, “No, it’s an awesome loan!” Where this bad information is coming from I have no idea.

The FHA is a government backed loan. It’s a great loan because it has a low down payment requirement (3.5% of the purchase price). So if you’re just starting out and are looking to buy a house, and you have very little to put down, the FHA is for you. Far from being the loan of last resort, the FHA is the loan of “first resort” because so many first time buyers use it.

The buyer using an FHA loan must put that 3.5% into the purchase of the home. However, that 3.5% can include closing costs. So if the closing costs and the down payment combined exceed 3.5%, some lenders will even allow the buyer to roll the extra closing costs into the loan.

Paying Money to Get Money

If you know anything about loans, you know that if you put less than 20% down you have to pay something called PMI, which stands for “private mortgage insurance.”

The FHA does not have PMI, instead it has something similar called a “mortgage insurance premium” (or MIP).

MIP for an FHA loan will run .5-.55% of the loan amount. Here’s how it works.

Let’s say the MPI is .5% and the loan amount is $180,000. The MPI every year will be $900 ($900 is .5% of $180,000). The bank will divide this into each monthly payment, thus you will end up with $75 more tacked on your payment each month (along with the tax and insurance escrows that are a part of any loan payment).

There’s also an FHA “funding fee” (sometimes called a “guarantee fee”) equal to 1.75% of the loan amount at closing.

So let’s take that FHA loan of $180,000 again. It will include an extra $3,150 in closing costs as the “funding fee,” and an additional $75  tacked on to your monthly payment for the MIP.

Maybe this is why some people think this is a “bad” loan.

Yes, you do have the funding fee.

But remember, you only have to put down 3.5%!

Sure, if you have 20% down, you can avoid the funding fee. And if you can swing a conventional loan without 20% down, you’ll avoid the funding fee as well.

But if you put down less than 20%, even with a conventional loan, you’ll still have PMI (which is nearly the same as MIP).

Even if you can afford a higher down payment, by going FHA you can keep more of your hard-earned money in the bank as a reserve and you won’t be so cash strapped going into your first house. As you settle in and start earning and saving, as well as building equity, you can refinance the house down the line and jettison the MIP.

So if you’re a first time buyer but don’t have a lot in the bank, the FHA is an excellent option for getting into your first house. It’s certainly not a bad loan, and not a loan of last resort.

We can help you find a house if you are using FHA. Just contact me at the email up top or email Kate Stevens, my partner and Broker Associate (904-377-2276).

Yes, we know Google killed Authorship, but the best minds say Big G still looks at the code. So here it is.



Spanky’s Closed: Where Everyone Knew Your Name

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook.

Spankys Pizza St Augustine

Spankys Pizza St Augustine

Spanky’s pizza house is closed.

When my four-year old and I walked by he asked, “Do you mean we can’t go there anymore?”

When I told him that was the case, he said, “Awwwwwwww…..”

Spanky’s sat in the plaza at the corner of US 1 and Wildwood, just a few doors down from Publix. It’s been in the same spot since I’ve been a resident of the (unfashionable) south end of St. Augustine, which is over 14 years now. Officially it was called Spanky’s II, but since there never was a Spanky’s I, well, that’s what made it charming.

What made it even more charming is that they remembered my kids since they were infants. The kids and I ate lunch there a lot before they went to school. While my son was in morning pre-K we probably ate there once a week. It was nice because they knew who you were.

We had a lot of fun conversations there, me and the kids. Once for an entire month I tried to explain who Spanky McFarland of the Little Rascals was. Then I had to explain that Spanky had since died. This was hard for one of them to grasp.

“Spanky McFarland was a little kid, right?”


“But now Spanky is dead?”

“Yes, but he was an old man when he died.”

“So Spanky is not a little kid?”

It went around and around like this for awhile.

Spanky’s was also the place my children first accused me of “being addicted for diet coke.”

When Little Ceasars opened nearby last month it probably took some of the local pizza business. Even if the two weren’t competing directly (Spanky’s was sit down and Ceasars is takeout), when you take money out of a market it has to come from somewhere. Maybe the contractors we always saw in there for lunch grabbed a pizza from Ceasars and ate in the truck instead. Maybe people who would have sat for lunch grabbed take out for home. Who knows?

We will miss the place. Like my four-year old said, “We can’t go anymore? Awwwwwww….”


How Critical Is Pricing When It Comes to Selling Your Home?

Monday, July 14th, 2014

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook.

How critical is pricing when it comes to selling your home? It’s the most critical thing you can do.

My partner and Broker Associate Kate Stevens go over it with you in the video below.

Want a Broker who truly understands how to price a home? You can contact me at the email above, or email Kate Stevens. We can help you get this done!

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Sweating Out The Appraisal, The Home Inspection, And What To Do When Your Neighbor Parks A Rogue Motorhome Next Door

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook.

What To Do When A Neighbor Parks a Motorhome Next Door

What To Do When A Neighbor Parks a Motorhome Next Door

As a real estate broker I am used to the appraisal and home inspection process, and normally I have a detached perspective on it.

On appraisals what I usually worry about is, “How are we going to handle this if it doesn’t appraise? What solutions do we have going forward? Will there be a way to keep the buyer and seller together?”

With home inspections it’s similar, “What do we do if the roof is bad and the seller doesn’t have the funds available to fix it?”

But then I went through the appraisal and inspections for my own house and it made me a nervous wreck. Maybe it’s because I knew of all the things that could go wrong but I was a living, breathing stressball in the days before and after.

The Septic Inspection

I wasn’t too worried about the home inspection, per se. I replaced the roof earlier in the year, added a new dishwasher and water heater, re-did the ceilings and painted the home both inside and out. I even added some new carpet. The a/c broke when we were moving out so I had that fixed and cleaned up as well.

I’d replaced some lights, all of the door knobs, and every burner on the stove. Even the washer and dryer and all the faucets weren’t older than a year. There pretty much wasn’t anything left to break down except maybe the refrigerator.

What had me in a twist was the septic tank inspection.

I’ll be starting my 14th year in the real estate business this summer and I have attended several septic tank inspections. If that ain’t a reason to get into real estate I don’t know what is.

Anyway, a septic inspection is where the septic guy sits there in front of an open septic tank as he pumps it out and observes it. As I sat there next to him I had no idea what he was looking for, or what constituted a good or bad inspection. Since I had no idea what the inspector was looking for, I had no idea how to prepare for it.

I mean, it was working for me while I was living there. That’s good enough, right?

The inspection turned out just fine. And the worrying just kind of ruined the day for no good reason.

Get An Inspection When You Sell

If you want to spare yourself some stress, pay to have an inspector come out for yourself. If anything shows up broken in the “major” category you can have it taken care of, and improve your net by selling the fix as something “new.”

Getting back to the roof replacement I did earlier, I discovered the roof needed replaced while painting the exterior. I noticed the shingle over done ten years earlier was holding wetness between the shingles and against some of the decking. So I ended up putting a lot of new decking on when I replaced the roof.

Had that happened while we were under contract it would have come as a major shock, and it might have scared the buyer.  But putting the home on the market with a new roof and wood repair already done made the house easier to market (and for a higher price, too).

I actually planned to have an inspection to catch any last “gotchas,” but the house went under contract too fast. Nothing showed up on the inspections anyway, so all’s well that ends better.

Sweating Out the Appraisal

I had my house listed at $179,900 and it sold for $172,500. The offer came in 9 hours after it hit the market.

As a broker I saw all the local comparable sales for other area homes before I put my own on the market. For example, I saw several St. Augustine Shores homes built in the 70′s on smaller lots list in the $170s and sell in the $160s. So I knew $179,900 was a good price for my own home built in the 1980s and nearby.

The trouble was, the house immediately next door sold for $141,000 a month before I put mine on the market.

So I was super worried. Was the appraiser going to look for homes just like mine, nearby but not necessarily right next door? Or was the appraiser going to look at the home right next door simply because it was right next door?

Here’s what I knew that an appraiser might not know: The house next door had been tenant occupied for nearly 10 years. The last tenant took good care of the place but he certainly didn’t put any money into it … nobody had in the last decade. The house was built with an obsolete floor plan (the floor plan didn’t become obsolete over time, it was actually built that way … with a very small kitchen and a master bedroom that opened directly to the living room and adjacent to the television). The roof was bad. There were only a few trees. The back yard had an “Elephant’s Grave” style septic tank.  But that kind of stuff doesn’t show up on sales records.

It’s not that I’m saying that the other house was a negative, but using it as a comp wouldn’t be an apples to apples comparison. I was a little concerned its sale price would drag mine down if it was used.

So what I did do was put every major improvement (and the year it was completed) listed in the marketing and in the MLS. That way the appraiser could see in black and white how the home had been improved compared to any other home it was being compared against, and the appraiser could verify things with their own eyes,.

No news is good news on appraisals. If things go south you usually find out in a few days.

After three or four days I started to relax. I still have no idea what it actually appraised for … at the closing I never looked.

The Rogue Motorhome

The day before I put my house on the market I was in one of the bedrooms doing some final touch up work. I looked out the window and the guy who moved into the house next door (thirty days earlier) was parking his 100-foot long motorhome in the side yard next to my house.

“You have got to be f*cking kidding…” I said to myself, incredulous.

I was a little upset. I was literally ready to run outside screaming.

And then I chilled.

First of all, I’d talked to my new neighbor a few times and he was super nice. He had the RV parked on the other side of the house for the first month, and maybe he was just moving it from side to side to keep the yard in better shape.

Secondly, the motorhome looked brand new, and it’s brown and gold scheme really meshed well with the trees on my side of the property line. And this is going to sound crazy, and this is not a knock on my neighbor’s judgement, but the motorhome looked a hell of a lot nicer than the house he just bought. Seriously.

And it was better that it happened right then, right before I put my home on the market.


If a buyer bought my house and all of a sudden a motorhome the size of Jupiter showed up, the buyer might have freaked. With it happening before the house hit the market I certainly freaked, but any buyer viewing the home would know about the RV up front, and it could either be an issue or a non-issue right then.

Obviously, with the winning offer coming in just 9 hours it wasn’t an issue at all.

And This Is The Reason Why They Have Homeowner Associations

I am now a member of a Homeowners Association (HOA).

Since I’m in the real estate business I am aware of how some HOAs can be poorly run or overly intrusive.

But HOAs keep the guy next door from parking his RV 20 feet from your bedroom window. There’s something to be said for that.

When you sell your house, call us. We’ll sweat the appraisals and inspections so you don’t have to: Click Here to Hire St. Augustine Team Realty! Or just contact me at the email up top or email Kate Stevens, my partner and Broker Associate (904-377-2276).

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How To Sell Your Home in 9 Hours

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook.

I put my home on the market at 11 am. I had an offer by 8 pm. It was signed in 24 hours and now it’s closed.

I followed my own advice: Make the home look better than every other home in its class and price it right. The buyer had no choice but to say “yes.” In fact, the buyer was happy to buy it near list price because he knew he was getting the best available home for sale.

I spent some money to get the home in shape. I worked hard to get it clean and keep it in shape. Here’s a short video of how I did it (hint, you can do it too!).

I’ve had some questions after shooting this video, for example, “What if I have wall paper?”

From a priority standpoint clean ceilings and clean walls are the most desirable things you can have and that is where you spend the money. If the ceiling had popcorn (like mine did) with patches falling then that is where your priorities lie. Get those ceilings fixed, and painted! And do the garage too!

If you have wallpaper: Get it down and paint! Paint should be neutral off-white color for the walls (and typically) a bright white for the ceiling. You should have the paint done throughout the house so every room matches.

There is no aphrodisiac like the smell of fresh paint.

If there is drywall work to be done or if you need to re-texture the ceiling like I did, I would strongly recommend hiring a professional. If you don’t have a budget to hire a drywaller then you can still hire a painter to repair missing patches and paint. However, this won’t make the home sell for as much as if it had the ceiling re-textured.

Leave Lots of Light

We listed a house last year on King Arthur Court that had new paint and it was just bathed in light … because it had no window treatments of any kind.

I remembered that house when I sold mine.

When I prepped the house for the painters I took down all the blinds and never replaced them. I even took down a sliding screen door (and stored it in the garage like you saw in the video) to let in more light.

The effect was fantastic. It made the house so welcoming and bright.

How Do You Know When to Say When?

You can improve a house beyond its value.

Some things I considered: a new driveway, new electrical outlets, and new doors for every room.

Doors: If I put in the new doors that would have meant matching the thresholds to the new doors. And then I’d have to match the thresholds to the base boards. And then all the base boards everywhere would have to match, even in rooms where there weren’t doors.

The better fix was simply to put new, matching doorknobs on every door. It added just the right touch of newness. You do have to replace every knob, however, because you’re trying to tie the house together by matching everything up.

Driveway: Any 25-year old driveway is going to be dirty and have cracks. I could have had the driveway replaced or used some self-leveling sealer to fill the cracks. My experience told me that replacing the driveway would lead to a higher value, but not enough to exceed the cost. Even if it were a push, it would still take time and money to hire the contractors and have it done, keeping it off the market longer and running my carrying costs of keeping the property higher.

The better solution was to simply power wash the driveway. You can rent a power washer for a few days or even buy one for a few hundred bucks. Warning: once you power wash a single strip of driveway to gleaming white newness … you’ll have to do the whole thing (as I discovered). I had no idea that my driveway was that clean underneath!

I hit all the exterior patios, porches, and even the wood deck with it. It tied the entire exterior together and it just made everything pop. It took two days to get everything done and hard work at that, but it saved a ton of money and made the house more attractive and sell for a higher price.

New electrical outlets: there was some thought to replacing the electrical outlets. Not because they didn’t work, but because I put new face plates on the outlets to go with the new paint. The old outlets were a bit “off” in color with the new so the replacement would have been strictly for aesthetic reasons. I was actually prepared to do this as the final “detail,” but the house had an offer before I had time to do it.

So I didn’t do it. First because it was only for aesthetics. Second because the buyer bought the house with the old.

The second reason was the most important reason.

If you are a buyer and you go into a house you purchased and things start changing all of a sudden it’s going to freak you out. Technically it would have been an upgrade, but for real, buyers don’t necessarily want upgrades, they want to buy what they bought. So I didn’t change a thing.

But I Was Still Over There Every Day

I left the newspaper (yes, I still get one of those) subscription at the old house and delayed changing the address so I would be forced to go over and check on things every day.

And when I was over at the house every day, I watered the plants, flushed the toilets, and swept the patios, decks and porches.

If a buyer comes by and sees everything is a mess and thinks he’s going to have 60 days worth of yard work and cleaning after moving in, he may ask himself, “What else aren’t they taking care of?” He may get buyers remorse because all of a sudden he thinks he got hoodwinked into buying a clunker. He may try and get out of the deal.

Remember, your responsibility doesn’t end until it’s closed. Take care of it better than you took care of it while you lived there until it closes. If you do that, it will close!

Looking for a great seller’s agent to list your home? Hire St. Augustine Team Realty! Contact me at the email up top or email Kate Stevens, my partner and Broker Associate, or call (904) 377-2276.